Problems that are Puzzles

Requiring expertise and standard methods

Engineering problems with broad consensus on objective criteria for a solution. Typically these problems are dominant in engineering, finance, mathematics, or the like. Often there are approved or standardized methods that constrain and direct the search for a solution.

Problems that are Puzzles are not necessarily simple or straightforward. Getting a man to the Moon and back safely was a puzzle, albeit one of enormous proportions. Building a dam or a bridge across a river are essentially puzzles, even though they may take years to analyze and play out.

While many Puzzles contain previously existing (and previously tested) solutions, there is frequently a novel element that requires creative exploration of new options.

The Present
  • The list of relevant variables is bounded, known and finite.
  • The values of the relevant variables are mostly known...or at least knowable.
  • The interdepencies among the various elements of the problem are known.
  • Generally we are highly confident there is an objective answer, or at least an optimal answer among several candidates. The application of time, effort, established method, and expertise is highly likely to secure an answer.

Likely Actions
  • Secure the needed expertise or experience.
  • Identify the standardized methods for finding solutions.
  • Whenever possible, find a pre-existing solution that would avoid "reinventing the wheel".
  • Where convenient, decompose the problem into various parts and address them separately.

The Future
  • The validity of the solution is obvious to all appropriate observers, so the "end" is easy to identify.
  • The problem solvers are free to disperse and work on other problems.
  • Often the implementation is handed over to others, who typically have the knowledge to recognize a correct solution when presented to them, even if they do not have the expertise or credentials to generate it.
  • The process of working together has enhanced — or at least not damaged — the working relationships among the problem solvers. In the organization as a whole, the effort should have reinforced the basic understandings about "how we solve problems here".

Common Typing Errors

The most common error in identifying Problems that are Puzzles is that we are so enamored of this class that we may squeeze other types of problems into this category just so we feel more comfortable with it. So we avoid the need for visioning the company's future by imagining it is just a matter of market research. We think we can avoid conflict between Management and Labor at the bargaining table by more thorough due diligence.

The second common typing error is to mistakenly believe a very large puzzle is actually a Complexity; as long as the list of variables is finite and their interactions are knowable, the situation does not qualify as a Complexity, even if the variable list is inordinately long.

< Copyright 2003 by Jerry L. Talley [ Home Page ]